YouTube hosts a massive number of videos (800 million). On that massive site, there’s a lot that’s bad and a lot that’s good. Yet, if you’re a fan of the Golden Age of Entertainment, there are some things to specifically look out for, some treasures you might find among the flotsam and jetsam of YouTube. Here are four things worth checking out:
The Colgate Comedy Hour:
The Colgate Comedy Hour was a massive comedy program, hosted each week by different comedy legends including Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Eddie Cantor, and Jimmy Durante, among others, in programs featuring live comedy and music. The programs didn’t have their copyright renewed and became public domain and a lot of them landed on YouTube. Watching them is definitely a time capsule experience with some fun performances as well as a few hiccups. Many of the Martin and Lewis episodes have survived. There’s a YouTube playlist with twenty-eight of them. Given the short-lived nature of the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis partnership and its lasting cultural impact, these are worth a look.
The Abbott and Costello episodes have served to confuse some fans to the benefit of sellers of DVDs. Many DVDs with public-domain episodes from their Colgate Comedy Hour sketches were labeled as part of “The Abbott and Costello Show.” However, the Abbott and Costello show was a separate production with fifty-two half-hour episodes that are copyrighted and sold by others. So it’s the difference between a live TV show starring Abbott and Costello, and a taped show called The Abbott and Costello Show. I’d clarify further, but this will turn into a column equivalent of Who’s on First.
Commercials and PSAs:
Golden Age stars often found their way into commercials and PSAs, particularly when targeted to an older audience. Consider Jim Jordan (aka Fibber McGee) cutting an ad for the AARP, or Jack Webb urging people to sign up for medicare, Edgar Bergen and his dummies Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd promoting Parkay. Jimmy Durante poking fun at his tendency to mispronounce words in a Corn Flakes commercial, or Bing Crosby making an earnest plea for Ducks Unlimited.
Commercially Unviable Entertainment Gold
YouTube takes down a lot of copyrighted material at the request of the rights holders. However, there’s a lot of television from The Golden Age that’s technically under copyright but is not commercially viable. So there’s no one filing takedown requests on what are effectively orphan works and these TV programs find a home on YouTUbe.
While many believe that classic stars faded from the public conscience after the end of the Golden Age of Radio, these programs show how many continued to have interesting careers filled with fascinating appearances and team-ups.
Durante got to see his impact on younger generations of comedians and musicians when he teamed up with a young Bobby Darin, who did an uncanny impersonation of Durante. Durante also got to a duet on “Old Man Time” in 1965, an appropriate choice for two entertainment legends that were near the end of amazing careers.
Edgar Bergen and his wooden pal Charlie McCarthy also had a long career that extended to close to the end of the 1970s. McCarthy ribbed Orson Welles at his AFI lifetime achievement award, crossed swords with Dean Martin and often made fun of Bergen for his lips moving.
There were also some special moments honoring the Golden Age of Radio while stars were still living. In a segment from a 1978 special honoring the 75th Anniversary of Kraft Foods, hosted by Bob Hope, brought the Great Gildersleeve (aka Harold Peary), as well as Bergen and McCarthy, to viewers’ screens to pay tribute to those good old days.
4) Reaction Videos
There’s nothing quite like discovering something wonderful for the first time. There’s a special moment where you see a movie and it blows you away on that first viewing. While your understanding of a piece of art might deepen, there’s no chance to really experience that excitement for the first time.
The closest thing to it is watching someone else experience it for the first time. That’s why I have enjoyed quite a few YouTube reaction videos reacting to classic works. Short-form reactors will most often watch skits from Abbott and Costello, particularly Who’s on First.
Others react to movies. There’s a joy in seeing someone discovering a brilliant work like Casablanca or Twelve Angry Men for the first time. However, my favorite film to see a reaction to is It’s a Wonderful Life. I was part of a generation that grew up on this film. When It’s a Wonderful Life was considered in the public domain, it was on all the time and I loved it as it kid. It aired not just at Christmas time, but programming-hungry networks showed it at any time of the year. In fact, I remember watching it in July. Doubtless this is true of many folks who grew up before 1993 (when Republic Pictures pulled a legal rabbit out if its hat to force It’s a Wonderful Life out of the public domain). Truth is I can’t even remember what it was like to have not seen this movie.
That’s why I love reactions to it: to see the bits of the film that surprise them, that move them, and how they see these characters that I’m so familiar with. It can also help me see it in a fresh since I watched it so many times when I was a child and they’re coming to the film the first time as an adult. Seeing someone whose often very different from me connect to a movie I love and seeing what they see has not only allowed me to vicariously share their experience but also often deepened and enhanced my appreciation of the film.